VistaGen and Capsant this week announced that they have signed a strategic commercialization agreement under which the companies will combine their stem cell platforms and three-dimensional culture assays to advance their mutual business interests.
The combined product offering, which will initially be applied to safety pharmacology and efficacy studies, will increase pharmaceutical companies' R&D productivity, the companies said.
Although specific financial details of the agreement were not disclosed, a Capsant official told CBA News this week that the companies have agreed to share any revenues that are generated. "It will be determined on a case-by-case basis exactly how that works," Lars Sundstrom, Capsant's chief scientific officer, said this week.
Capsant's proprietary OrganDot 3D technology is a high-throughput, 3D tissue-culture platform with integrated multi-electrode array electrophysiological measurement capabilities. Capsant has been developing this 3D cell-culture model on a technology platform that it calls the air-liquid interface.
Although Capsant has been mainly working with primary cells to do this, "we looked for a partner with expertise in human stem cells and differentiation into tissues with whom we could work, because we had preliminary data that suggested that we could generate differentiated tissues from stem cells in mice," said Sundstrom.
From its perspective, VistaGen wanted to find a company that had a 3D, scalable culture technology and electrophysiological capabilities to analyze VistaGen's cardiac cells and neuronal assays, Ralph Snodgrass, chief scientific officer for VistaGen, told CBA News this week. He added that, "Capsant actually came to us first. They identified us as the stem cell partner that they wanted to work with."
VistaGen sought a partner that had a 3D cell-culture platform because "all of our data, and a lot of data in the industry," were starting to suggest that one gets a much more mature and functional cell population when cells are grown in 3D cultures, versus standard, flat 2D plasticware cultures, Snodgrass said.
He added that "was clear in some our beta-islet cell projects, and it was clear in some of our hepatocyte projects."
Capsant started working with VistaGen almost a year ago to evaluate its technology, and was "very pleased with what we saw," Sundstrom said. He added that, "With VistaGen, we were able to produce the kind of mixed cell populations and the number of cells that we need to do our 3D culture."
So over a period of about six months, Capsant evaluated VistaGen's technology, and came to the conclusion that it made sense for the companies to work together on commercializing this platform.
In working on these pilot projects and co-developing assays together, "we realized the combination of our technologies was incredible," both in terms of how VistaGen's biology expands and grows and matures on Capsant's 3D culture systems; and Capsant's 3D culture systems allow VistaGen to develop large-scale assays for cardiac cells and other micro-organs that comprises a completely different platform and delivery of assays to the pharmaceutical industry, compared to microtiter plates and cell culture dishes, Snodgrass said.
The system is currently being used by one of VistaGen's pharmaceutical partners on the CNS oncology side, and is being used by another pharmaceutical group on the cardiac side, said Snodgrass. He declined to elaborate, except to say that they are "top 10" pharmaceutical companies.
"We are currently working on cardiac cells, and are just beginning some validation studies using hepatocytes. And we will also be generating some 3D pancreas models," said Sundstrom.
"We already have the cardiac system. That is up and running," said Snodgrass. He also said that one can expect to see human hepatocytes in this type of assay, as well as human neuronal assays.
The initial application of this platform will be for safety pharmacology, Sundstrom said. The second line application will be efficacy studies.
Snodgrass said that, "Over the next six months, you should see a deal flow coming out of this [agreement], or collaborations out of this with big pharma."